“25 albums that changed your life” (5×5 Part 9):
The Jimi Hendrix Experience Live at Winterland

  • This was Number 9 (‘…number 9…number 9…’) on a chronologicalish list of ’25 albums that changed your life’. THAT was a thread some people were doing on Facebook “back in the day”.
  • A full explanation of all this is submerged elsewhere in the Mortal Bath.
  • If you get bored or disagree, substitute the word ‘arse’ for a word of your choice in the album title.

This piece has been kicking around for ages in search of a theme, if any theme other than the cosmic awesomeness of Jimi Hendrix is necessary. Then Jo Greenway at 10 minutes hate read my mind as usual and posted about the assault on the intellect that libraries have been undergoing in the UK, and it all came together.

JCG says:

The things we discover when we believe we are looking for something else entirely are often the most valuable.

This needs no further amplification. It is all about riffing (whatever “it” is, as Faith No More suggested), as far as I am concerned, and I am at my happiest digressing (no shit!). Riffing on what has gone before is essential for people to develop whatever happened, have fun with it, come up with something new.

Right, so, this Jimi Hendrix live album. Around the same sort of time that I was into Iron Maiden, Guns n Roses, etc, the medium of maximum profit for record companies was CDs. Lord how “they” miss it, as I type, attempting to convince digital natives, using electronic beads, that there is a better value proposition than free. I might as well note now that in typing CDs I had a sudden flash of future – possibly present day – readers of this rushing to a glossary, in the way that readers of Shakespeare have for at least three hundred years. There was a great joke about someone ‘of a certain age’ mentioning to a child that “Prince has released his new CD free with a newspaper,” to receive the response “Who did what with a what?”

CDs, anyway, had only been around a few years and were (as they remain) quite pricey. In the days prior to everything being available virtually immediately, if you didn’t want to buy something we had TV shows, radio, dial-a-song services, copied tapes and that was it. But what lovely it! Personal contact, whispered secrets, did-you-see?s, slow voices on waves of phase, hand-drawn packages passed from person to person in class, in the schoolyard, from siblings, teachers, mates.

In addition, there were the communal joys of the public library. I got into a fair number of bands through the library in Harrogate, where I grew up, and which at that time had a very well stocked record/CD library. Books as well, of course, but it was a great place to seek out new sounds, new civilisations. With my library card and at 80p per item, I got to take home and listen to (and tape at home, thus killing music) luminaries such as Pixies’ Surfer-Rosa-and-Come-On-Pilgrim, Pink Floyd, Prefab Sprout, Syd Barrett, Kinks, Roxy Music, Led Zep… and this CD by The Jimi Hendrix Experience, Live at Winterland.

You do still get CDs and you do still get libraries, and they are often found together, but it is a matter of sadness, or, fuck knows what it is, nostalgia, bio-sentimentalism, sehnsucht, that the corporeality seems to be dwindling, and along with it the opportunity to “stumble upon” something tangible. This rush to GET RID of half the books in favour of computer terminals, no music and a fucking coffee bar, because that’s what will SAVE MONEY; stupid, needless cuts in the name of faith-based economics, one market under God… combined with the vogueish rush to have everything clickably instant and monetised into an app and flattened out into neat lines of 1s and 0s. Uncle Ray Kurzweil and all that immanentizing the e-schaton rag… Do we wish our physical lives away? Probably not really, not yet. Anyway, back in ‘consensual reality’ (that place with all the trees and birds)… as any geocacher might tell you, there’s something to be said for trove finding.

Actually finding a magic lamp, or even just something hidden under a rock. Time and memory mix up the exact sequence of events through which I discovered James Marshall Hendrix. I thought it might have been through a CD from the library called The Marquee: 30 Legendary Years. This had Purple Haze on it, among other standards of the guitar rock canon. Bands I came to love, like T. Rex, Thin Lizzy, The Who… all the Ts… That is also perhaps an album that could be on a Top 25 list, but – alas! – it has Genesis’s Turn it on again on it, and I’ve never understood their work. Too artsy, too intellectual.

Also, according to AllMusic, the Marquee CD came out in 1993, which is too late for the timeline in my head. Considering this crucial and vexed issue further, I am pretty much sure that First Contact with Jimi was made through the BBC Arena documentary on Heavy Metal, which first broadcast in 1989. Thanks to the super Real Gone blog and the other super blog Heavy rock – the playlist I have been able to confirm this. And thanks to Sir Tim Berners-Lee. The internet has replaced virtually all of this wearying, hand-tooled, questing on foot, organic education scenario. Bah, now I’m conflicted. It’s a double-edged thing – not a sword, though… probably an axe?

Arena, TV shows like The Rock n Roll Years, provided a vital supplement to my education. Cultural context, innit? TRNRY was a seminal (spunky and original!) series, featuring historical clip montages, accompanied by music. A crucial detail from the Wikipedia entry on it: “no presenters or voice-overs”. Definitely not one of the interminable sort of “100 Greatest Minutes of Rentaquote No-marks Being Facetious About Things They Didn’t Really See At The Time And Don’t Really Get”. Rock n Roll Years provided an in-depth education about (pop) culture.

With Arena, I don’t think it was a case of watching the documentary and the scales falling from my eyes, because I’d got hold of a few Hendrix records, and had been sent a few Band of Gypsies tracks on an extensive compilation mailed in a sock by a repatriated American best mate from primary school. Yet, it definitely had a big effect. It was all the meta-context, if that’s the right term. Seeing this exotic footage of Greenwich Village cafes, the British support cast – not only the Experience, but manager Chas Chandler, Alan Price, foils Clapton/Cream and The Who, etc… imagining the Beatles turning up to the hotly-ticketed gig and watching open mouthed as the Experience zip through a cheeky cover of Sergeant Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band the day after it came out…

…these little scenes captured on grainy film, like flashes off a gold plate on the side of a deep space probe, remnants of an age of exploration. I found it compelling and fascinating.

At that time, 1988-89ish, rock music was shoring itself up culturally against the encroaching tides of dance music, the continued growth of hip hop, etc. The advent of CDs was carrying all the young dudes’ youths back into their living rooms, remastered, digitally convenient, but also reaching a new audience of heritage seekers like me, whose parents had grown up with it. I’m sure there are hundreds of words to be written about cultural legitimation/confirmation processes.

I do still find it fascinating, despite the attempted ruination of a lot of rock culcha by what I like to call the Uncut Mojo tendency, with all the connotations of belligerent academic white maleness that title might summon. It was a vital, LSD-binge exploration time for some, of course, but a money’s too tight, time down t’pits for others. A country struggling to loose the tie and hat legacy of wartime austerity and do something for and with itself, yet constrained (as now) by all the spare money being pushed up the noses of pop stars. Although now pop stars are all old grey whistle clean, it goes into trust funds, and it seems like no one is trying to kiss this guy.

Just watch the whole Arena documentary, because we can… the minute or so from 15.30 fried my little brains. I was fascinated by the history of the “baby boomers”, born as the second world war ended and by the 1960s ready for excitement, colour, music, clothes. So alien. In later years, other associations come into play. There is the closing theme to the decade, Hendrix’s version of ‘All Along the Watchtower’, which needs to be seen with the wrecking ball clip from perhaps the ultimate ‘escape from the 1960s’ theatrical masque Withnail and I.

That would be followed most appropriately by the National Anthem. Jimi Hendrix playing the Star Spangled Banner at Woodstock is a performance about which millions of words have been written and muttered, none of which add anything. Good luck finding a version of it that doesn’t impinge on someone’s copyright. It should be compulsory viewing!

Back to the CD that was in hand, to the inappropriately sequenced end of track 2/start of track 3, ‘a kind of instrumental jam thing’, Sunshine of Your Love, by some real groovy cats, the Cream. Hendrix introduces the band again by detailing the equipment they’ve managed to destroy, with the fuzzy inexactitude of the has-to-be-just-a-teeny-bit baked, before uttering what is my favourite ever count-off, “And Mitch over here is on his third pair of arms… Fuck it, hell, I don’t give a damn,” and off they go.

In the absence of the Live at Winterland versh, here’s one off the Old Grey Whistle Test, noted for Hendrix’s comment as they abandon ‘Hey Joe’ that they are going to “stop playing this rubbish”… That and Sergeant Pepper and guitar music gone bonkers is what made me love Jimi Hendrix. Good new stuff is created when people have fun with old stuff.

And I would have maybe never come to it if wasn’t for our local library. Hands off the bibliotheques, you heathens, you’re getting in the way of some convoluted journeys of discovery.

Previously in The Mortal Bath… ‘Fasten your lap-strap’.

Casino Royale (CR), the first James Bond novel, was published in 1953. Here, from the lavish ianfleming.com website, is the original Jonathan Cape jacket blurb:

The dry riffle of the cards and the soft whirr of the roulette wheel, the sharp call of the croupiers and the feverish mutter of a crowded casino hide the thick voice at Bond’s ear which says, ‘I will count up to ten.’

Anyone who has ever gambled will find this tense and sometimes horrifying story of espionage and high gambling irresistible. So will readers who have never entered a casino. Connoisseurs of realistic fiction will particularly note the careful documentation of the Secret Service background, the chilling portrait of Le Chiffre, the authentic menace of SMERSH, and the sensual appeal of the girl in ‘soie sauvage’.

These bumphtious references to conoisseurs and raw silk barely begin to gently stroke the surface of the sensual appeal of the Bond books. Post-war gastronauts, label Mabels and petrolheads would also find much worthy of note within the pages of this landmark novel.* Bond’s reputation as a bon viveur is a significant aspect of the series as a whole, and it’s in CR that many of his predilections and prejudices first surface. He is, to put it bluntly, an aggressive snob in matters of what to eat, drink, drive, smoke, hump.


The cover of the Pan paperback captures the green baize excitement, the essential appeal of Bond, with the cashier’s cheque for an astronomical sum in francs panting continental exoticism, never mind the p’tite wink from the graphics department with the handwritten ‘soixante neuf’…

This consumption with relish of what must have been mostly unattainable pleasures for rationing book Britain appears throughout the Bond canon. Let us take the infamous Vesper cocktail, the ‘vodka martini, shaken, not stirred’ immortalised in the flicks. This bland order does no justice to the thing of alcoholic wonder, ordered with colonial vigour, in the book:

“Just a moment. Three measures of Gordon’s, one of vodka, half a measure of Kina Lillet. Shake it very well until it’s ice-cold, then add a large thin slice of lemon peel. Got it?”
“Certainly, monsieur.” The barman seemed pleased with the idea.

Booze pedants will point out that Gordon’s has diluted its recipe since, and so on, that shaking ruins the drink, but Fleming is creating a man who is the measure of all things, knows what he wants and dam’ well gets it. Bond is comfortable adding an absurd proviso regarding grain over potato vodka, lessening the poncery with a ribald crack in the local lingo. He later names the drink after a girl, showing his romantic, perhaps even a sentimental side.

We shall return to Bond’s prodigious consumption in Thunderball, although it is worth noting now that as well as this cirrhotic excess, the gambling and the gorging, Bond smokes around 60 cigarettes a day. However, while there is a lot of this airplane magazine catalogue of ‘cool’ GQ How-To-Guide stuff in the books, Bond’s absurd intake highlights what JCG at Ten Minutes Hate refers to as ‘a… sometimes out-of-control human being.’ Bond is, without doubt, a vehicle for communicating Fleming’s fashionable tastes in the name of excitement and escapism, but he is also a complex character, a haunted one in many ways.

This makes perfect sense given Fleming’s intriguing life story (soon to be filmed again by super Duncan Jones, it says here at ScreenJabber) and the historical context of the book, released a few years after World War II with its own well-rehearsed litany of horrors. Bond is a soldier who, in the absence of a Great Cause, is really just a blunt instrument, a man apparently with a death wish being used to visit it on others, something deliberately worked with by Fleming throughout the novels.

As the first entry in the series, CR establishes some reasons for why this might be. There is the Freudian field day (Field Day is a good name for a Bond girl) start of the infamous series of “Bond babes”, with the dark, quixotic French waft of mystery that is Vesper Lynd. The lemony twist to the tale (such as it is) is of course that Bond’s sentimental attachment to Vesper nearly emasculates him, actually and figuratively. Again, this fallible Bond is far more brutal, and brutalised, than any of the films prior to the Craig reboots, or arguably Pierce Brosnan with a beard in North Korea, managed. The chilling carpet beater scene is convincing and terse.

It also introduces a first ‘new enemy’ for Bond, early Cold War political uncertainty represented in the wonky Cyrillic letter Щ carved into the back of his hand by a heavily-accented Soviet agent. (Check out the excellent Commander Bond website for some far more detailed research and exegesis.) This scene makes explicit Bond’s helplessness in the wider game of history, and the long coda to the novel, with Bond and Lynd’s doomed relationship playing out through convalescence, elaborate meals, empty sex and finally betrayal, is doubtless a metaphor for British involvement in wartime and post-war Europe in some way. The book begins and ends nihilistically; it is a damaged world, full of damaged people, including the protagonist. As Fleming perhaps saw it, life is about the way the cards fall, and how you play them… and the house usually wins.

It is a satisfyingly dark book. Bond has only some of the insouciance and confidence one associates with him, the Secret Agent Man, the suave and apparently indestructible force of justice. His uncertainties and flaws in CR are what make him such a compelling character for the rest of the series. That and the exciting drinks, card games and violence. As a scene setter, and as a standalone work, CR is indeed in many ways irresistible.

*Yes, it is a landmark novel.

Appropriately, for May Day, the stirrings (not shakings) of a James Bond-related project.

J.C. Greenway, currently bank holidaying writer of the excellent Ten Minutes Hate blog, wrote about Moonraker recently, a piece I heartily endorse. Somehow, a discussion of Ian Fleming’s Bond novels – see the comments section here – was suggested.

Something for everyone to look forward to there. So, some considerations on Bond. The notion set me musing on the continuing appeal of the James Bond books. I’ve been a devotee since a while back, probably since I was about 11 or 12. It was a family holiday, a memorable trip for cultural firsts, as part described in the Simon and Garfunkel section here in this music bit of the Mortal Bath. I also became a fan of Fleming, working my way through the series as quickly as I could find the books in various second-hand shops around town back home. Readers who have been to Harrogate may understand the urbane appeal.

I ended up with a full set, as well as two Kingsley Amis additions, Colonel Sun, which faithfully referred to the Casino Royale template of violence, girl and food but was a bit boring, and The Book of Bond, or Every Man His Own 007, which was hilarious. Crucially, it also provided context, a surrounding cosmos for the Bond solar system. Parodying a Playboy/How-To style, Amis used the simple device of quoting the original novels extensively, with dry observations skewering the contradictions, recurring tropes and brand snobbery. Also, Amis being a friend and fan of Fleming, it was clearly revelling in the pot boiler deluxe stylings of the best efforts in the series. This was probably the first time I realised that to parody something effectively you have to love it.

That’s where Bond ended for me, really, with the full set of Fleming and the Amis reductio. The first few John Gardner books I tried were interesting, but it seemed a dilution, somehow, not as compelling. I couldn’t get past the first chapter of Devil May Care more recently for the same reason. And, back in the day, prompted by the lurchings of the film franchise, I had begun to develop Bondsickness. The Book of Bond, at least, amplified self-reflexive, humorous subtexts already present in the books. Importantly, it managed this in a way that did not cheapen them, as Danjaq’s increasingly desperate efforts with the films sometimes did.

Don’t get me wrong, I’ll watch an old Bond movie if it’s on, but some of them are pretty ropey.

Anyway, the books, the books. In a moment of teen fundamentalism, manifesting a disastrous decision to “move on”, thinking myself beyond Bond, I divested myself of all the books. I know, I know. If it’s any mitigation, the same period saw me ditching the Clive Cussler and Alistair Maclean collections as well, only one of which decisions is now vindicated. The folly of youth, etc. While having since found what I am convinced was my actual collection in an Oxfam in York, I still no longer have the Book of Bond. I had bought it for £1.00 out of Bell’s Bookshop (sadly defunct). I can’t find the paperback online for less than £15 now.

This reflects, I think it can be convincingly suggested, if not argued in any great detail, the cultural rehabilitation of the original series. The novels-as-objects are hot commodities, the pricing for even bog-standard paperbacks suggesting their desirability. Long since featuring introductions from, like, “proper” writers such as Anthony Burgess, they are also recognised for their contextual importance and lasting cultural impact. And of course, film tie-in, the novels are due for a re-re-release this year. This will no doubt further dent any hopes of ever recapturing my mis-streamlined youth without breaking the bank at Royale-les-Eaux.

It has always been ‘Bond-as-adapted-book’ for me. The films just aren’t as hard, funny, tasty, stupid and horrible as the books. The details and tone of the novels are unique. Still, as JCG notes, the return-to-canon approach of the last few outings has refreshed the movies, while providing new lights with which to re-examine the original texts. The Secret Service trope has been interrogated at length since the 1960s. Bond himself was always part of the deconstruction, at least in the books. One of the main points of appeal is his ambiguity, simultaneously the aspirational model man of tastes and the ‘blunt instrument’, post-war relic adrift intended by Fleming.

I look forward to an exploration of some of these ideas, as well as revisiting my favourite sections. Bondish events here in The Mortal Bath shall start at the very beginning, shortly, with Casino Royale. Fasten your lap-strap…